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Guest post: The Myth Of Press Release Syndication: Kelvin Newman, SiteVisibility

FX: Fanfare

This the very first Guest Post on In Front Of Your Nose. And I’m delighted to welcome Kelvin Newman from SiteVisibility for this auspicious debut with his take on The Myth Of Press Release Syndication. His views on the subject are highly pertinent – not least because he knows what he is talking about when it comes to SEO – and the PR world on the whole has a very distorted view of what they can, could or should do with regard to press releases and search.

Kelvin is Creative Director at SiteVisibility (without question, one of the top SEO firms in the UK), as well as editor and presenter of  iTunes most popular marketing podcast (again, along with a sub to Econsultancy, people could save themselves a lot of pain and heartache by simply listening to this every week).

Anyway. I’ll shut up. Kelvin, take it away….
Guest post: The Myth Of Press Release Syndication: Kelvin Newman, SiteVisibility

“We all understand that Google’s algorithm is trying to mimic the real world. Google’s reliance on links to determine authority is based on what happens offline. If a trusted person or media outlet recommends a product, the more I trust the recommendation. And the more likely I am to believe them. Makes sense, doesn’t it? So why do so many people believe that Press Release Syndication services (who will shill for anyone who hands over the cash) are going to be good for your rankings?

In my opinion, rather than just being a benign distraction for the naive, I’m genuinely concerned that huge swathes of the PR industry think that in order to ‘get’ SEO they just have to start adding a few keywords into their press releases, bung them on a wire. And their clients will  automatically shoot up the rankings.

The links that have the most impact are those that are hardest to achieve; genuine editorial mentions on relevant pages of sites with huge trust. Press release syndication will never enable you to do that. All it does is get you a link from a website which no real person ever visits. There are no real editorial standards being used. So the chances are even higher that really low quality spammy sites are being linked from and tainting your clients by association.

Some people occasionally justify this process on the basis it might help a website get at least some links and coverage from journalists who subscribe to the release wire service concerned. Personally, I can’t see it. When I used to work on Zoo and Arena,  journalists were swamped with releases by email. I doubt they’re going to go out of their way to sign up to get more.

Some services even charge you more to get some shiny social media buttons on your release. What a complete waste of money. I can count on one hand the number of times a press release has been shared in my social networks. And in those cases, it was only because what was contained in the release was hugely news worthy. The latest “me too” product launch or made up survey is never going to get shared socially.

And do you think Google, with their sweat shops of PHDs, haven’t twigged that these websites will link to anyone who pays? It’s not a huge leap to assume that they might have tuned out any minor value that these websites might have had years ago.

So why do people still think it works? Well, it’s easier than actually wrapping your head around how link building really works. It’s a small nod to SEO without actually having to drastically change approach.

However, I can’t be completely against the technique.  It can be a great way to open up communication between whoever is responsible for PR and SEO. It shows that on both sides of the table, we’re starting to understanding that we’ll get better results if we work together.

Of course, it is beautifully ironic that in the area where you most frequently see collaboration between PR and SEO currently, the outcomes hardly justify the effort. The real value of PR and SEO working in unison is in creating stories and content that appeal to the people who have the power to link to – and influence – a site’s reputation in a positive way.  This is where PRs and SEOs should be concentrating their efforts.

In summary, my attitude is if the news release has already been written, it’s mad not to try to eek out a bit of SEO value by publishing it on a wire. It’s not going to do any harm. But anyone who thinks press release syndication is an important link building strategy needs their head testing.”

What do you think?

Comment below like your life depends upon it.

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Monitoring Social Media event – Boston: 5th October 2010. 20pc discount on all tickets.

Update: 16/10/2010 Discount now 20pc. Post amended to reflect this.

The folk at Influence People have a got a number of good events coming up in the US over the next few months. If the quality is anything like the Social Media Marketing event I attended in London in June, then US attendees are in for a treat.  One of our clients (Glide Technologies) will be participating in the Monitoring Social Media event in Boston on the 5th of October (more details below).  A 20% discount on any ticket price is available to anyone using the promo code ‘GLIDE’.


Monitoring Social Media (Boston) will bring together leading brands, PR and marketing experts to discuss the latest ideas, trends and techniques in social media monitoring and measurement.  Though a series of presentations, panels and expert-led discussions, we will explore the critical issues that marketers and PR professionals are facing in their efforts to monitor their social media interactions.”

Tuesday 5th October

John Hancock Hotel & Conference Centre

40 Trinity Place at Stuart Street

Boston, MA 02116


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Exclusive! 4 step process for PRs to gain backlink building expertise in 30 mins. Guaranteed!

Kelvin Newman of Brighton-based SEO firm Site Visibility posted a great piece on EConsultancy recently in which he claimed that PRs can be better link builders than SEOs.

Of course, the important word in the title to his blog post is “can”. The implication being that PRs currently aren’t better link builders.

On the back of this, I have spent a lot of effort over the last few weeks to come up with the following foolproof process for PRs who feel they are lacking in their backlink building skills and want to get one up on the competition:

Step One: Click this link
Step Two: Spend 30 mins to one hour reading the articles here.
Step Three: Go back and read them again
Step Four: Remember what you’ve read before embarking on any kind of link building exercise.

Seriously though. Eric Ward talks a lot of sense.  He’s been banging the “great backlink building is synonymous with good PR” drum for longer than anybody.

Pick any one of his articles, and you’ll usually find a pearl of wisdom eg:

It is not the link itself that the engines trust. It is the person behind the link.

The ultimate credibility of the content will be determined, from a linking standpoint, by the credibility of those giving out the links.

Web marketers should not ignore the significant role this human algorithm will play in their link building future.

There seems to be a growing consensus that relationship building and content are the keys to successful backlink building (and by definition, successful PR and SEO). If so, then the door remains firmly ajar for the PR sector. However, it needs to make the effort to grasp the opportunity.

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The problem of Information Obesity

I believe Tim Ferriss of Four Hour Work Week fame coined the phrase and concept of a “low information diet”.

According to Ferris: “It’s not enough to use information for ‘something’ – it needs to be immediate and important. If ‘no’ on either count, don’t consume it. Information is useless if it is not applied to something important or if you will forget it before you have a chance to apply it.”

It occurred to me that you could extend Ferriss’ diet/food analogy. In other words, we are all consuming too many information calories. And, as a result, we are suffering from information obesity. Our brains are getting fat with useless information.

However, what we don’t have is any equivalent form of food labelling for information.  The food we buy has meta data regarding its nutritional content – in other words, we have the opportunity to decide whether to consume based on prior information.

However, with information itself, rather than be able to determine in advance what “info nutrition” the content has, we tend to have to consume it first to find out – by then, it is too late.

Stretching the analogy to breaking point,perhaps  trusted people, media and brands will  become the information nutrition filters that our bloated minds surely crave.

Or do I want my cake and eat it?

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Why poor backlink requests are like bad PR Pitches

The SEO vs PR debate continues to rumble on. However, on a very tactical level, it occurred to me that certain SEO practitioners are starting to emulate some of PR’s worst habits – specifically, the bad pitch. Or at least it’s SEO equivalent – the poor Backlink Request.

The key qualities they share are irrelevance and lack of personalisation.

Journalists hate getting mass-mailed irrelevant junk. And in a similar way, if you run a website or a blog (and let’s face it, that’s a lot of us these days), it is just as annoying to get spammy link requests.

I’ve yet to receive a carefully crafted and personalised request for a backlink that shows the person making the request understands what my blog or sites are all about. Or what real benefit might accrue.

It was thus interesting to see Stefan Hull from top SEO firm PropellerNet at the Social Media Marketing event back in June present a case study on the work they’d done to support the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush. A key part of the project was getting quality backlinks. And how did they go about this? By properly researching appropriate backlink properties and then making personalised approaches to try and get the link.

In other words, the kind of work that PRs have been doing for decades with journalists. Substitute editorial coverage for backlink and you get the idea.

This seems to me an eminently transferable skill – and at least for once this is something where PR can bring something new to the SEO party rather than the other way round. I realise some people might think getting a backlink doesn’t have same appeal as getting editorial coverage – but given that SEO firms seem to be better at making money than PR agencies, perhaps one can’t be too sniffy these days.

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Does the average UK Facebook user spend 24 hours per month on the site?

According to Hitwise, the average amount of time spent on Facebook by a Briton has decreased from 30 minutes in December 2009, to 27.36 minutes during June and July 2010.

According to Google, the average session time was 26.40 mins – not wildly dissimilar to Hitwise’s estimate. Perhaps even more interesting, Google claims that the average number of visits per UK Facebook user last month was 51 (worldwide average is 33).

On Google’s figures, that would suggest the average UK Facebook user spent 1360 minutes on the site last month – or nearly 23 hours.

On Hitwise’s figures that would come to nearly 24 hours per month.

Given these are average figures, that suggests that some people spend considerably more than a day month online at

Contrast this with Google’s view of  Average session time is 11.50 mins – and average number of visits per visitor last month of 13. This translates into around 2.5 hours per month.

YouTube clocked in at an average session time of 23.20 and 17 visits last month. Total session time for July, 6.6 hours.

According to Comscore last year, the average British internet user spent around 29 hours per month online. Perhaps that figure has risen dramatically in the last 12 months. However, it would still  suggests that the vast majority of our online time is spent on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Food for thought.

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Reach versus engagement: the new online battleground for PR and media

For decades, PR has been seen by many marketeers as “cheap reach via editorial” – in other words, the goal of PR was to gain editorial coverage that provided the greatest number of opportunities to see – at a significantly lower cost than advertising.

Because the means of providing a verifiable link between editorial coverage and business impact was either prohibitively expensive or just not possible, there has been a largely accepted assumption that positive press coverage is valuable – period.

In the past, the notion of measuring engagement with editorial content was largely theoretical.  Circulation and readership figures were treated as proxies for engagement (if a newspaper has a readership of 2 million, then we assume that a large proportion must be in some way engaged with some or all of the content – we just aren’t sure which content and to what degree. Or whether this engagement results in a meaningful business outcome).

However, you could argue that Google data now provides for a much deeper understanding of editorial engagement. At least online.

For example, by using the Google search “site” command, you can easily see how many pages of a site the search giant has indexed (ie are likely to be found).  And with Google’s Doubleclick Ad Planner tool, you can get a fix on a specific engagement metric – namely, time spent on page. The more time someone spends reading content, the more likely they are to be engaged with – and influenced by – that content (of course, it could mean that people are having difficulty understanding the content – but if that extended to all of a site’s content, you would presume its readership figures would tail off rapidly).

In conjunction with Adam Parker, Chief Executive of RealWire, the online press release distribution service, we took it upon ourselves to analyse a selection of 50 online, newspapers and magazines, examining three core areas:  readership, engagement and UK relevance of content. Adam provides an excellent analysis of the results on his blog, Show Me Numbers.

So what kind of engagement do people have with leading online news sources? (*Full detail and slide presentation of  joint Realwire/Escherman analysis here).

For example, the average UK visitor to The Economist site spends around 122 seconds per page. While the average UK visitor to the Reuters site spends around 214 seconds per page.

So what does a difference of 92 seconds per page mean? If you accept that a typical reader can consume around 200 words of content per minute then in principle, a Reuters UK visitor is going to consume around 713 words vs 406 words for The Economist – in other words, a Reuters visitor is going to consume nearly 75pc more content than the typical Economist reader.

If you look at the average number of pages consumed per visit, there are some interesting things to be drawn out. Across the whole sample, the average number of pages consumed per visit – either globally or in the UK – is around 4.  And if the average number of visits per month per visitor to a site is around 3, then the total number of pages consumed per month by a typical visitor is around 12 pages of content. Clearly, some site’s visitors will come back more often than others. But the likelihood that the majority of news site visitors will consume more than 20 pages of content in a month is low.

However, before Avanash Kaushik beats me up, I’ll be the first to say that all averages lie – and this analysis rests upon averages. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that this is a useless exercise. If the average engagement time per page is 60 seconds, that almost certainly means that some people spend longer reading a page, while others spend less time. By definition, the number of people spending longer reading a page is going to be less than those spending a shorter time than average. Which means that the vast majority of people visiting an online news site are engaging less with the content than the average. The same applies for average views per URL. Some URLs are going to get more views than the average (clearly a big story is going to get significantly more than the average). This means that the majority of URLs are going to be viewed less than than average. Which means an 80/20 principle applies – namely, a minority of a news site’s content, is going to get the majority of the engagement.

The implications for PR are clear. Getting positive client messages into the first few hundred words of a piece is going to be nigh on essential for sites with lower average page visit times – otherwise, the likelihood is that your message just won’t be seen by many of a news site’s readers – all in spite of the effort you put in to get a journalist to write about your client in the first place. Having said that, as a general rule, specialist titles seem to have lower numbers of visitors and page views, but tend to have far higher engagement with content. And what of offline media? In spite of dwindling circulations, a case could be made for the fact that engagement time with a print newspaper may well be much longer than that of an equivalent site visit – and thus the chance to be exposed to more content is higher (then again, the average shelf life of a daily national newspaper is a few hours. At least web content is in theory available continuously – assuming of course that Google indexes it).

Looked at another way, if you are really interested in maximising engagement with a client’s message (as opposed to maximising its theoretical reach), then this kind of analysis may well help you clearly delineate where the ability to genuinely create a causal impact may lie.

Engagement or reach – what will you be advising your clients to focus on?

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Pogoplug allows printing from iPhone, iPad, Android or any other device, no matter where you are

Here’s an interesting new development from Pogoplug (a client) –  web printing. Or cloud printing if you prefer.

For the first time, Pogoplug users will be able to print from an iPhone, iPad, Android or other mobile device from anywhere in the world.

Pogoplug cloud printing will initially support all HP printer models and all Epson printers released since 2005.  Set-up is simple and straightforward; once a printer is connected to a Pogoplug, it is ready to use.

Additionally, users can email any document directly to their Pogoplug for printing.  Printers can be shared with friends, family and colleagues or used to create printer ‘hotspots’ for temporary access to a printer in a public location. The new Pogoplug “cloud printing” feature is coming automatically to existing and future Pogoplug customers later this Summer. And there are no fees for the new feature.

This follows on from another recent addition to the Pogoplug which was the ability to email any document for storage on a Pogoplug connected drive.

As the owner of a shiny new iPad, the Pogoplug is certainly helping to address complaints from some quarters about the rigamarole you have to go through to get files off your iPad to then work on a separate machine. For example, if you create a Keynote presentation,  you have to use some kind of file sharing software to export – and that means being in the vicinity of your desktop machine.

However, with a Pogoplug, you can simply e-mail your presentation (or any file) using “upload@mypogoplug” and you have access to your file from anywhere. For example,  I created a presentation on my iPad while  travelling – when I wanted someone in the office to edit it, I simply e-mailed it to a shared folder – and my colleague could work on it.


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How UK PR firms can improve their SEO capability overnight for £85

About 18 months ago*, I paid around £85 for a piece of software called Market Samurai. I can hand on heart say it is has been one of the most valuable tech investments I’ve made in that time.

To describe it as a general internet marketing tool doesn’t really do it justice. Whether it is drastically reducing the amount of time to handle keyword research or detailed analysis of SERPs, I constantly refer to it.

One of things that stands out for me is the vast amount of useful training material provided by the Market Samurai team – for free. Just watching a few of these videos would probably save PR firms many man weeks and hundreds of pounds of Mickey Mouse training from less reliable sources.

Here’s a couple to give you a flavour:

An Introduction To Keyword Research

How To Find Relevant Keywords

Before I get too fluffy bunny about Market Samurai, it isn’t going to do your SEO PR for you. But at least you can try out the product for free for a few weeks, so no risk there.

Anyway. Enough of my gushing. It is most unlike me. Why not click on the big graphic on the upper right of the page and get a free trial download. See what you think. In fact, I’d welcome feedback from people who try it out – I’m happy to share tips and tricks I’ve picked up using the product over the last 18 month with like minded PR folk who want to improve their SEO skills.


*In the interests of transparency, I’m happy to say that I’ve signed up as an affiliate for Market Samurai. So yes, if you do end up buying it, I get a modest commission. It doesn’t impact the price you pay for it. However, you will note that I have no other such affiliate arrangements with any other provider. I’ve been recommending Market Samurai (for free) to anyone who will care to listen over the last year. So the recent creation of the affiliate programme simply gives recommenders like me a small reward for pointing people to a product I highly value in any case.

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Winners and losers in NMA’s search agency league table 2010 + PR implications

A curate’s egg – ie good in parts – is probably the best way to look at NMA’s latest league table of UK search marketing agencies.

As ever, I’m always grateful to NMA for providing the baseline data to look at. As I’ve done in previous years, I thought I’d dig behind the figures to see if there are any significant trends to be discovered – and to compare the search sector with the PR sector.

First up, some things worth noting regarding this year’s league table compared to 2009.

1. As per last year, NMA looked at net income (gross profit) rather than turnover in order to rank agencies.

2. The NMA table seems to suffer like PR Week’s league tables from agencies who submit figures when times are good – and then don’t submit when the data doesn’t look so rosy. There are only 19 firms in this year’s league table that were in last year’s. Hard to believe that 11 firms dropped out by recording a lower gross profit  (£36K) than number 36 ranked iVantage. So we can only assume they chose not to take part for whatever reason.

3. The financial periods being compared vary widely. For example, although in principle the table is intended to cover 2009, iCrossing achieved a number two position based on their figures to the end of Dec 2008. However, Steak returned figures based on a year end to February 2010 – as we all know, a lot can happen in 14 months. So worth bearing in mind that apples aren’t necessarily being compared with apples here.

So what can be gleaned from this year’s figures?

On one level, you might argue that Bigmouthmedia should be very pleased to have held on to their number one slot for the second year running with gross profit of £12.6m (in terms of PR sector comparisons, bear in mind that this is larger than most top 150 PR Week firms achieve in terms of top line fee income).  However, Bigmouth actually saw gross profit drop by 5.78pc on last year – or £775K.  Other firms also saw declines in net income – in fact a total of 42pc of the firms that appeared in last year’s table saw falls in net income. The biggest came from Latitude with a 52pc drop (£5.4m). As was well documented at the time, Latitude went (briefly) into administration in January, before a management buy out saw the firm back in the game.

In terms of net income per earner, Bigmouth once again are  top of the pile – £120K gross profit per employee – marginally down on last year’s figure of £123K. Last year’s top performer in terms of gross profit per employee – Net Planet Media – didn’t figure in this year’s table. Then again, it did derive 100pc of its income via paid search – so perhaps the removal of Google’s BPF had a big impact on net income (for PR comparison, the top fee per earner rate in the PR Week Top 150 is around 280K. However, even assuming stellar gross margins of 30pc ie unlikely, the best performing top 150 PR Week firms would still be well below Bigmouth’s profit per employee figure).

But who were the best search agency performers? (*)

On the basis of actual and percentage growth, then there is a clear winner – Propellernet.  The Brighton-based firm saw net income rise by 64pc to £2.268m. Propellernet was also second only to Bigmouth in terms of gross profit per employee (£113K). Congrats also to Agenda21 and Epiphany Solutions who saw net income rise 44pc and 32pc respectively.

So what does this tell us about the state of the search sector? And the implications for PR?

As NMA themselves pointed out “it was the first full year to cope without Google’s Best Practice Funding. This had often been used by agencies to lure in new business by offering any commission from Google to the client directly. In a world without this, agencies had to prove their added value.”

In other words, agencies had to move away from relying on PPC for income.  This can clearly be seen in the breakdown of individual revenue streams from agencies.

For example, back in 2008, Steak said it drew 80pc of its revenue from paid search. According to NMA, that percentage is now down to 37pc.  And this trend is being played out among other search marketing firms. But although natural search is taking a bigger slice of search agency revenue, in many cases, agencies are turning into digital generalists, offering e-mail, mobile, interactive and other services.

Of course, we ought to be careful about how these labels are defined. For example, top performer Propellernet says 70pc of its revenue comes from natural search with 30pc from paid search. However, Propellernet have been very vocal of late in promoting their SEO PR offering – indeed, they currently describe themselves as a search and social marketing agency. Perhaps some very healthy online PR related revenues are being wrapped up under the label of natural search?

Staying with PR, it was also interesting to note that the digital arm of PR group Golley Slater made an impressive debut in the NMA table with net income of £2.1m. In the PR Week top 150 table, Golley Slater generated PR fee income of £3.9m. Even if Golley Slater achieved record breaking gross PR profit margins of 30pc, then their digital income would still dwarf their profits from PR.  I strongly suspect their PR margins are much lower than 30pc. And PR fee income fell last year.

The search arm of PR group Chime Communications VCCP also saw net income rise to £1.16m – a smaller, but significant and growing contribution to the profitability of Chime overall.

In summary, this year’s NMA league table shows that even the search sector is not entirely immune to the general woes of the economy. Having said that, search firms continue to generate very respectable profits – certainly compared with the PR sector. And search firms are making no secret of continuing their land grab for PR work. The PR sector must therefore continue to up its game in terms of the quality and value of the digital services it offers.

(*) I was all set to name Summit Media as the best performer. They apparently recorded an incredible 1128pc increase (£1.364m) in net income based on the figures in last year’s NMA table which ranked them at number 29 with gross profit of £120K. However, according to this year’s table, they actually recorded net income of £1,208,160 in 2009 – so obviously a big typo remains in last year’s NMA search agency table.